Wartburg (Tennessee)

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Wartburg is a city in Morgan County, Tennessee, United States. It is the county seat of Morgan County.


Wartburg was founded in 1844 (other sources state 1840) by Georg Friedrich Gerding (anglicized George Frederick Gerding in the US).

“The city was named after the German Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament into German.”

Gerding (1800–1884) was U.S. Consul to Baden-Baden 1845-47. Acquiring 300,000 acres of land, he established the East Tennessee Land Colonization Co. for German-speaking immigrants. For Wartburg with it's first 15 families, he gave land for the town square, a church, and a cemetery. Only four persons in the Wartburg colony owned more than 1000 acres. Among them was Friedrich Karl Georg Freiherr von Forstner (1800–1861), Rittmeister (ret.) of the Württemberg Army and half-brother of Major General Karl Gottfried Friedrich Peter Freiherr von Forstner. After a colonization attempt in Texas collapsed, the famliy moved near the German colony of Wartburg, Morgan County, Tennessee. Von Forstner bought 1500 acres in Morgan County and built a large home on it. Despite his concern about the remoteness of Morgan County, he lived there until his death in 1861 and his wife until her death 1891.

While Morgan County was substantially pro-Union, this sentiment was not unanimous. Gerding was strongly secessionist and pro-Confederate. He left Wartburg for the duration of the war, sitting out the Civil War in Louisville, Kentucky. Other large landowners from Germany like Carl Aurin, Rudolf Braun, and Rudolf Freytag also supported the Confederate States during the war. On the other hand, Dr. med. Edward Goetz and Dr. med. Gustav Brandau served as medical officers in the Union Army during the war. Another German, Dr. Friedrich August Sienknecht (1804–1883),[1] supported the Union, but two of his sons joined the Confederate Army. The congregations of the German and Swiss churches in Wartburg split over the war.

In the 1880s, the construction of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad provided an unexpected source of income for many Wartburg craftsmen and farmers' sons. The German master stonemason, Franz Schubert, employed many fellow Wartburgers. Slowly the wounds of the war began to heal. Gerding wrote to Rattermann, editor of the Deutsche Pionier in Cincinnati in 1878:

"Wartburg has now recovered considerably from the war. It has now three churches, a good hotel, four stores, and without doubt will become the summer resort for many Cincinnatians once the railroad has been completed."

The three churches mentioned by Gerding were the old Lutheran Church, later renamed St. Paul's, a Presbyterian church which had absorbed many German-speaking Swiss members of the defunct Reformed congregation, and a Roman Catholic Church. A very small Catholic congregation had been in existence as early as 1847. It was then served by an itinerant priest. In 1878, a congregation was again formed and a church built in the following year but it was soon afterwards supposedly "destroyed by enemies of the Church." The only institution founded by the East Tennessee Colonization Company which survived was the St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Today, even to the casual visitor, Wartburg is still full of lingering memories of its German past. Its name alone provokes questions as to its origin. Along the highway names like Kreis and Freytag and Heindle are still commonly found on mail-boxes and billboards. The weary traveler can rest at a Schubert Motel and the curious tourist will be surprised to find German inscriptions on the tombstones on the little God's Acre. When the German Bundestag deputy, Dr. Ludwig Ratzel of Mannheim, visited Wartburg in April 1960, he was cordially welcomed by the descendants of the German immigrants After the Hon. Ratzel had addressed them in St. Paul's Church and brought them the greetings of the city in Germany where G. F. Gerding once was the U. S. Consul and where he had gathered immigrants for Wartburg, Pastor Robert P. Nerger closed the meeting with a prayer in German. Before parting with their visitor, the congregation spontaneously rose and all those present joined in the singing of Martin Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." At that moment many Wartburgers felt the strange emotion of being aware of their long and thorny history which created this small American town in the mountains out of the Utopian dream of a businessman who was looking for profits and found himself suddenly in charge of men and women and children who looked up to him for leadership which, despite his faults and shortcomings, he provided for many years.[2]

Further reading

See also


  1. Friedrich August Sienknecht was born on 1 February 1804, in Preetz, Plön, Schleswig-Holstein, Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. He had at least 3 sons and 3 daughters with his German wife Catharina Benedicta Dorothea Johanne, née Heick (1811–1854). He died on 16 July 1883, in Wartburg, Morgan, Tennessee, United States, at the age of 79.
  2. Klaus G. Wust: Wartburg – Dream and Reality of the New Germany in Tennessee, Baltimore 1963 (Archive)